25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Who has no ambitions in life? A person who has given up all ambitions is not interested in life at all. Ambitions are nothing more than expressions of our deep desires. Desiring is a natural human inclination. We want to be more, have more, and do more. We want better things and better conditions for ourselves and others who are dear to us. One can have ambitions for nobler things . As St. Paul advised, “Seek eagerly after love. (1Cor. 14,1)”

Action starter: Know yourself. What do you desire?

There is nothing wrong with a public official seeking higher office, if it is to do more good. There is nothing wrong with an athlete seeking to be a champion, if he plays fair. There is nothing wrong if a student wants to achieve a summa cum laude award, as long as she does not cheat in the exams. As human beings we have the proclivity to surpass ourselves and others. We seek to test the limits of our physical capabilities. We want to go faster, go higher, and be stronger. We want to test our intellectual prowess by solving puzzles and pursuing solutions to problems.

There are noble ambitions and there are selfish ambitions. The Gospel this Sunday warns us against the latter, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all. (Mark 9,35)” Jesus illustrated his point by taking a child as an example, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me. (v.37)” A child has no social status nor influence. A child is a nobody , and Jesus pointed to the child as somebody one should welcome or befriend. It doesn’t make much worldly sense to have a nobody as a friend. If one has worldly ambitions or is an influence peddler, it makes more sense to cultivate the friendship of the politically and socially powerful.

St. James, in the second reading, issues a warning, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. (Jas 3, 16)” At the heart of any conflict is a disregard for others and a disordered desire.

The line that divides noble ambitions from selfish ambitions is very thin. One has to really be very honest and be aware of desires and innermost workings of his heart. There is some truth to the saying that the road to hell is paved by so many good intentions We are really capable deceiving ourselves. A politician who is caught up in the mire of corruption may have started with the rationalization that he was just trying to help some people. Desire for more money and power took over. A family man who is in an adulterous relationship started out with good intentions to be “just friends”. Desire to possess overcame his friendly intentions. Cheating scandals in government licensure or professional examinations may have started as friendly tips. One thing led to another and eventually money considerations took priority.

Not all ambitions are bad. There are noble ambitions. However, we have to be careful when we deal with money, power, and popularity. Before we know it, our good intentions may be leading us to hell.